Review of International Studies

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Review Article

Down but not out? The Kurds in international politics



The capacity of the Kurds—a scattered, divided and stateless people—to make headline news never ceases to astonish. Perhaps most sensational were the extraordinary events early in 1999 which accompanied the seizure in Kenya and subsequent extradition to Turkey of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdish Workers Party, with its now familiar acronym, the PKK. Ocalan's arrest, and his sentencing to death by a Turkish court in June 1999, are only the most recent in a series of Kurdish-related events that have captured the imagination of the international public. The post-Cold War period alone has witnessed the massacre, by chemical weapons, of Kurdish villagers in Iraq after the Iran–Iraq war (1980–88) and a failed Kurdish uprising and massive refugee crisis after the Gulf War (1991), to be followed by the creation of a Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq. In 1992, far away in Berlin, which saw some particularly ugly scenes at the time of Ocalan's capture, three Iranian Kurdish opposition leaders were murdered. So significant has been the Kurdish imprint on the contemporary International Relations agenda, that some have suggested that the Kurdish issue today can be likened in some respects to that of Palestine.